Monday, July 16, 2007

Harry Potter and the Blink-And-You'll-Miss-'Em Order of the Phoenix

OOTP is my favorite Harry Potter book. And, I have to shamefully admit, during my weekend in NYC I took S. on what turned out to be a nearly seven-hour trip to see the film. (We found a theatre but got lost on the subway and missed the showtime; then we found another theatre but it wasn't showing HP; then we found another theatre but it was closed for the day because the building had no water; then we finally caught a 10:40 p.m. showing in the heart of the city. S. remained a good sport throughout. I owe him BIG TIME and know it. ^__^)

I wasn't necessarily disappointed. I thought the imagery was fantastic. The effects were finally streamlined to the point where they looked "real" rather than like clunky digital animations (OMG FLIGHT OVER LONDON!!!). The editing, while not the wickedly clever work of Mr. Cuaron (as Blogical Conclusion notes), was charming.

But I was a bit perturbed by the truncation of the story -- and even more so, the truncation of the characters. For a film titled "Order of the Phoenix," the actual Order had a collective four minutes of screen time.

Let's take, for example, Nymphadora Tonks. In the text, she's a major player in the story -- in the film, she's given less than a minute of screen time and one line of dialogue. Warner Bros. spent months agonizing over whom to cast (and the online fangroups agonized along with them), and yet the role was so circumspect, anyone could have played it.

S., who has read some of the HP books but did not follow the series through OOTP, kept asking me "who's that?" each time a new character appeared onscreen. At first, I gave him a bit of detail; but as the film progressed it became very clear that it didn't matter who Tonks or Arabella Figg or Dawlish were, as they were neither given character development or allowed to enhance the plot. They were merely images flashed onto the screen for brief seconds, to keep the fans satisfied that no important character had been left out.

Someone, somewhere should run a calculation of the amount of time each of the following characters appears onscreen: Tonks, Moody, Lupin, Shacklebolt, McGonagall, Kreacher, etc. etc... and Ron. Poor Rupert Grint had nothing to do in this film. For one of the three major characters, he barely registered onscreen.

Alan Rickman, meanwhile, seemed to be using his screen time to show us how tired he was of this whole business. He's one of the few people besides JKR who knows the "truth" about Snape, and he could have presented a nuanced character, deliberately tantalizing the fans with this secret; and yet every line was uttered in the same dreary, deadpan tone. When I saw the film, every Snape line was accompanied by hoots of laughter.

To be fair, Snape was given a lot of extremely bad dialogue... as was everybody else. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg seems to be doing an even worse job than Steve Kloves (the man who gave us "Oh my God, I've killed Harry Potter!" in GOF). He completely butchered the script's high-charged moments by handing round trite and sentimental cliche, and the climactic "Love is the weapon you have that Voldemort does not" scene was laughed out of the theatre.

Interestingly, the one character who really stood out was Luna Lovegood. Press releases reveal that untrained newcomer Evanna Lynch was essentially allowed to do as she liked with the part, from costume choices to dialogue rewrites, and thus we got a reader's interpretation of Luna rather than a Hollywood one. (For the uninitiated: Evanna Lynch won the part of Luna by convincing JKR and Warner Bros. that it would be a good -- and marketable -- idea to put an untrained fan into the initially minor role. From there, it seems the part expanded to fit Lynch's talents.)

In comparison, the wildly talented Helena Bonham Carter, who has plenty of skill but no real knowledge of the books, managed to reduce Bellatrix LeStrange into a series of "boogidy-boogidy-boos!"

And the less I write about wands becoming light-sabers, the better. I'd hate to spoil the ending for anyone who hadn't yet seen it.

It'll be interesting to see what happens to the films after the last book is out. HBP is trying to open in November 2008, but they won't get DH out until nearly 2010, and by then, will people still care? Even this film seemed to open with much less fanfare than the others (I haven't seen a single picture of any opening-night costume parties), and my guess is that after the book releases and people finally know "what happens next," enthusiasm will wane considerably.

And yet I still have immense gratitude for S. coming along for the day-long ride to see a movie. ^__^

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Yeah, I think I'm just going to buy it on DVD instead of spending time to go see it in the theater.